We should probably hang up our snorkel gear and rest on our laurels, leaving Hawaii on a high note. Either that or we need to plan a trip to the South Pacific next. Last Sunday can be described by one word: Blissful. But before we go there, here’s a video of this Na Pali coastline.
Needing adventure, we sailed out to anchor off the Forbidden Island of Ni’ ihau, about 30 or so miles from Hanalei, staging ourselves to get to the little volcanic island next door, Lehua, just after sunrise the following day. Lehua is one of those destinations that the tour boats generally populate, ensuring you share the experience with 100 of your closest friends. But with Covid 19 the tours are not operating. We hoped to pick up one of the underwater moorings that they use and spend the one calm and sunny day this week snorkeling water that was said to be the highest visability around. In fact, our friends told us not to worry about having trouble finding the underwater mooring. Just jump in the water and look around, they said. You will see it no matter how far away you are. Whoa.
We actually had a great sail over to the small islands. The water was rough, but our standards are low. Once across the channel we set out to explore the coast of Lehua and see if we could locate the underwater moorings for the following day. We had gps positions that were given to us by locals. The island wasn’t ready for us, however, as the winds and waves were too stout for comfortable exploring so close to the rocks and in water relatively shallow. Instead we motored up to see the north side, thinking we would go see the crater of the volcano. But were quickly put in our place by taking green water well over the bow. Oopsy. A few very tall waves and an open forward hatch (darn it!) had us deciding to turn tail and run down to Ni’ihau and get anchored for the evening, which we did with all speed.
Settled in the rolly anchorage for the night I grabbed the binoculars and searched the deserted sandy beach. Now, this island is owned by a private family and is inhabited only by a small town of native Hawaiians. No one is allowed to land on the island without permission and, in spite of the fact that no one is legally supposed to ‘own’ land that is covered at any time by water (such as in the tidal zone of a beach), the people of the island are said to consider all parts of the island to be theirs and to be generally disinterested in hearing about legal definitions of beach ownership. The stories and myths surrounding this place are thick and varied. We had not planned to go ashore. But…
I spied with my binoculars many round things that had been washed ashore. They were round, as in spherical, like a ball. There are references to people finding Japanese fishing floats on just the beach we were anchored near. One person wrote that they found upwards of 60 floats at one time. Were those the famed Japanese fishing floats I was seeing with my spy glasses? Were they the glass ones that are highly collectible and would look great with little twinkly lights in them? What a souvenir that would be of our time in Hawaii!
I took a photo with my long lens and put it on my computer so we could see them better. They were definitely balls of something, definitely the right size, definitely strewn all over the tidal zone of the beach. It might be worth risking a reconnoiter considering we were on the unpopulated side of the island with no one in sight for miles. Even if we were seen, we would be gone quickly and, after all, there were no stories of people getting murdered over putting a foot on the Forbidden Island. Mosty just stories of people being yelled at. We would wait until sunrise, when all beach ninjas strike. And then, we would go, stealthily, in our small and unassuming dinghy with the 2.5 horse engine. No one would notice us at all.
After a night of utterly zero sleep due to insane rolling around in the swell, we arose as the sun was just barely over the horizon, lighting the sky just enough for us to see. Hopefully all the villagers were still asleep in their beds on the far side of the island. I grabbed one of our drybags in case we needed to carry a lot of pirated booty, and we set off for the shore. We were greeted by surf that was just, well, in a word: No. No way could we risk landing the dinghy in crashing surf like that, far away from people who would welcome us should we become swamped trying to land, or, worse, injured. Sometimes it sucks to be old enough to be careful.
Still, undefeated, we tossed around the idea of one of us swimming ashore and checking things out. I was going to go over the side in an instant and body surf in. No problema. But in the end for some reason Mike decided he would go. I think he had visions of some watery demon grabbing me and pulling me under or something. (Watery demons would never, ever touch him, you know.) But whatever, over the side he went with his drybag partially inflated and bobbing in his wake. It was only about 10 feet deep, but the waves were considerable and crashing.
I dinghied back and forth along the waves watching his head in the surf and seeing him stand up, his feet on forbidden territory. I felt glad for him. I mean, he had so wanted to land on San Benedicto, where it is also forbidden to land. But we didn’t. Because we do want to live to tell these tales and that island would have taken as human sacrifice anyone who dared try to approach its beach.
Soon he was scurrying up to the balls and picking them up. Alas, he also was putting them down. He was on shore for all of 5 minutes. I met him with the dinghy past the break and he was over the side in an instant. The balls were floats of some kind, perhaps Japanese, but they were plastic. Just so much detritous on the shore. I can’t say I was surprised. Plastic is everywhere and forever. It was too bad, but it was a fun way to start the day. Maybe the villagers will use them for something.
We quickly anchored up and tootled over to Lehua, easily finding our mooring about 6 feet under the water. That was a first for us; having Michael dive down to grab the mooring and run a line through it, then swim over to hand the line up to me to cleat off. The rumors about this place were right: the water is remarkably clear with visability we have never seen before. Certainly Mexico never had water like this. Our mooring was in about 20 feet of water but it seemed like only 5. It took us no time to get our gear on and get to snorkeling around.
The snorkel grounds at that part of the island are basically over a big, flat shelf covered with rocks and coral. The shelf ends abruptly, like the edge of a table, and when you swim off the edge, you are looking into a brilliant blue abyss. It’s beautiful, and unsettling at first. Ok, I admit we had hoped we would spot some larger fish, even a shark or two, from our safe position at the edge of the ledge, but we never saw anything but blue water and hundreds of sparkly fish.
We had all the usual colorful and curious little reef fish, along with a couple of white tipped reef sharks that cruised passed. But the real winners were the Monk Seals. We were literally the only people there and I cannot help but think that made them friendlier and more curious. One seal swam with us for quite a long time, swimming next to us to get back to our boat, even, and then hanging out by the boat. Another one came up in front of me and I almost bumped into it as it was catching a breath on the surface. I think they look a bit like Manatees in the water and they make the sweetest low grunting sound.
We snorkeled three areas that day. For sheer breathtaking underwater structure, the keyhole arch near the northern shore of the island is the ultimate. We had dinghied into the arch, hoping to anchor the dinghy inside and swim around. It looked to be about 20 feet in the middle, with rocky walls, but it looked like there were ledges where an anchor could be deployed. I cast the dinghy anchor over the side to see if it would touch bottom. Nope, no slack in the line. We tried another spot. Nope, no slack. Then another with the same result. We couldn’t figure out a good place to anchor so I masked up and went over the side. I would have started laughing had I not been so overwhelmed by the sight of the sea floor about 100 feet below me, sheer rock walls on either side. The idea that our little anchor would ever work here… pretty funny. We found a place to tie the line onto the lava rock wall and Mike came in after me. It was so hard to leave, the place was like an underwater cathedral, complete with baby moray eels tucked into the lava rock and a resident Monk Seal because that completes the whole cathedral metaphor.
Yesterday morning we did a farewell snorkel, but the wind was already filling in from the southeast and the current was too strong to be relaxing. Wind, waves, and current conspire to ruin a good snorkel. We left on a high note, convinced we would never have that great a day: the whole island to ourselves, the clearest water we have ever seen, and friendly and curious Monk Seals. Utter bliss.
Now we are, pretty sadly I can tell you, gearing up for the passage home. We aren’t really psychologically ready this time. We feel like Hawaii has just now started to be good to us, like we have finally gotten our groove here. However, leave we must if we want to make it to the Pacific Northwest before August, better known as ‘Foggust’ up there. I remember fog. And not fondly, either. So the next few days will be getting the boat in order, finding a way to finish provisioning for the next round, and then saying farewell to Hawaii.
It may be that we will need to sail this way again.
So a couple more things: first apologies for the bad quality of the photos. I ruined my good underwater camera so I’m using a cheap one for now, but also have poor internet so the photos have to be EXTRA poor quality to get them onto the blog. Ugh. Tech issues.
Also we had a screaming good day swimming with turtles. Here’s some video. All this video is why I am almost out of high speed internet. Enjoy.
For more videos of the highest professional quality you can go visit my channel on Youtube and poke around a bit. Some of them are pretty rolly due to swell and other natural things, like shaky hands due to excitement. So be prepared to be amazed. Here’s the link.